How trendsetting UW students brought backpacks to the masses

UW, invention of backpacks, JanSport

Before backpacks, textbooks were toted by hand or wrapped in leather straps. Creative kids made use of rucksacks and Army packs, but the rise of the modern book bag can be traced to the UW campus.

Industry leader JanSport, once a Seattle startup, designed a daypack for hikers in 1969 and sold it from a sports shop next to the UW Book Store. Huskies soon adapted the pack for hands-free book hauling. Sure, the sporty bag looked cool, but JanSport co-founder Skip Yowell said the main perk was protecting books from the rain.

As for the “Jan” in the company’s name: That comes from another founder, seamstress Jan Lewis, a UW alum who earned a teaching degree but chose to sew instead. Lewis remodeled the bag to tow heavier loads, and JanSport soon became a backpack behemoth.

“The trend stuck and spread far and wide,” Elizabeth King writes at, “sparking a nationwide movement.”